A data journalism/public information portal that promises to counter the proliferation of manufactured content in the digital age by presenting hard facts backed by factual evidence or data from official sources. A project that creates a better understanding for a neighbour country by using digital technology. A community media platform that contributes to community development and empowerment of citizens through the use of new technology and online resources.
These are some of the projects that have received awards under the recently launched Sweden-South Asia Media Project (www.southasiamediaproject.com).
The Sweden-South Asia Media Project aims to create a forum for exchange of ideas, perspectives and future outlooks on the Indian and Swedish media landscapes, and to build a network of Indian and Swedish journalists as well as media researchers, to discuss and exchange ideas about work methods, trends within the media industry and business models.
“The aim of the Sweden–South Asia Media Project is to study and report on the growing digital media landscape in South Asia and link these results together with the development of the Swedish media landscape,” says Andreas Mattsson, project coordinator of The Sweden-South Asia Media Project.
The project is a new initiative under SASNET — the Swedish South Asian Studies Network, an inter-disciplinary platform that promotes education, research and information about the countries of South Asia, and acts as the hub of information on South Asia across Scandinavia (www.sasnet.lu.se). The countries covered are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It is a national open network resource connecting Swedish and international academic departments on the study of South Asia around the world.
The Sweden-South Asia Media Project was launched in Delhi in December. It will bring media researchers and journalists from Sweden and South Asia together in two instalments every year — in Sweden and India — to collaborate on new media projects, including reporting on stories, exchanging data and even teaching younger media students.
The project team consists of media researchers and journalists from Sweden and India. It includes Mattsson; Lars Eklund, the SASNET deputy director since 2001, who has 35 years experience as a journalist focusing on South Asia, and was editor-in-chief for “SYDASIEN” magazine; Anna Lindberg who formerly taught history and gender studies at Lund University, and at the University of Pennsylvania and Penn State University in the US; Hindol Sengupta, editor-at-large for “Fortune India” and the author of five books and founder of the Whypoll Trust which has worked in gender mapping New Delhi and launched the first women’s safety mobile app in India; Shweta Punj, who works with “Business Today” magazine and is the author of a bestselling management book; Divya Rajagopal, financial reporter and founder of WhyHate, an internet platform that tracks harassment on social media, and Priyanka Borpujari, a reporter-photographer on human rights and justice for various Indian and international publications.
In order to sustain and encourage social innovation in a digital context, the project includes the Innovation For Good award given to one enterprise or individual for their work. The winning candidate in 2015 was the organisation Factly. Their site has meticulously collected and compiled data and information and presented them as stories, videos and infographics that the public will find useful and interesting. For instance, they have a story on Kerala — how empowering local governments both in urban and rural areas has been on the agenda for most governments. The Ministry of Panchayati Raj conducts an annual study, the Panchayat Devolution Index (PDI) to rank the states based on the status of devolution. And Kerala has topped the list in 2014-15.
There’s another interesting one on the Swachh Bharat Cess — the latest addition to the growing list of cess collected by the government supposedly for various purposes. The data on cess collected and spent reveals that more than a quarter of the cess collected under various heads remains unutilised for the intended purpose.
Two honorary awards were bagged by the site India Loves Pakistan (www.indialovespakistan.com) that creates a better understanding for a neighbour by using digital technology, and Citizen Matters (www.citizenmatters.in) for the creation of an innovative and value sensitive approach to journalism.
An exploratory workshop was held at Lund University in October. The focus was India. It was followed by a mirror workshop in Delhi in December. The aim was to highlight the future media landscapes in India and Sweden. The two-day workshop brought up questions related to working conditions of journalists, political influence on media, online ethics, gender in media and innovation in media.
Indian media researchers and journalists presented their experiences and outlooks on the future media landscape during panel talks, presentations and seminars. Participants included Vibodh Parthasarathi, media researcher from the Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi; Professor Anjali Monteiro and Professor K.P. Jayasankar from Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS) in Mumbai; Dr Devika Jayakumari from Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, and Divya Rajagopal, financial reporter at the “Economic Times” in Mumbai.
Interestingly, a key member of SASNET, Eklund is married to a Bengali and runs Scandinavia’s first and only Rabindrasangeet choir. He first came to Kolkata in 1982 and was enamoured by the city’s love for arts — music, dance, painting. His wife is the daughter of famous artist Annada Munshi and is a Rabindrasangeet exponent. The couple spent their honeymoon at Subhas Chandra Bose’s summer home in Hazaribagh. They live in the university town of Lund. One can come across Rabindrasangeet performances by his wife on Swedish radio and television. They started a Swedish Rabindrasangeet choir in 2012 (it has 15 members). The choir has performed in Sweden as well as in Bengal and Odisha.
Andreas Mattsson, the project coordinator of The Sweden-South Asia Media Project, is a lecturer in journalism in the Department of Communication and Media, Lund University, and a freelance reporter. His articles and reports have been published in various Swedish newspapers and news magazines. He spoke to Weekend Review about The Sweden-South Asia Media Project. Excerpts:
How did The Sweden-South Asia Media Project come about?
The Sweden–South Asia Media Project aims to connect all countries in the region to the project. Different countries have different media challenges but all are somehow related and I’m convinced that there are ways we can collaborate around them.
Many in India lament the erosion of ethics in traditional media platforms. They say newspapers/TV have become spokespeople for corporates and politicians and real investigative journalism is missing. Will your project address this?
We already brought that up for discussion during several of our sessions in our exploratory workshops in Lund and New Delhi. This is nothing unique in India. Moreover, it is a development of communication, public relations and journalism that we can see all over the globe. In the digitalised media landscape, everyone can somehow become a publisher. A political party can launch their own news website and spread propaganda or biased news. I don’t necessarily see this development as negative if we can agree that it’s more important then ever before, to be transparent, tell your readers who the sender is and to give them the information they need in order to make their own judgments.
You have talked about the need to go digital in order for media to survive. When we talk about how media could become more proactive and engage with readers/viewers, were traditional platforms not doing that? What has changed?
While media organisations in Sweden are fighting for their financial sustainability in a context where there is a dire lack of money due to less advertisers and subscribers of print newspapers, there is a huge potential in international collaboration in the online field. There is only one internet, and you are publishing on the same platform that I do in Sweden, using the same — or similar — publishing tools as I do.
Back in the day when we where working for only print editions, we didn’t see that kind of contact surfaces which are nowadays obvious. Meanwhile, a globalised world means new travel habits where Swedes go to India to work, study or enjoy their holidays. Indian citizens travel to Sweden for the same reasons.
In Sweden we have seen several cuts in newsrooms. We have seen so many Swedish journalists being fired and foreign coverage in our daily newspapers being cut down. For that reason we don’t know much about what’s going on in countries such as India.
Having foreign correspondents or stringers costs too much. I call for a new and more sustainable way of collaborations where we — in the digital era — can benefit from the fact that there are well-experienced and talented journalists in India — as well as in Sweden — where through collaborations we can share information, research and stories.
What do you feel about the growing role of mobile phones in media?
There is one interesting difference in online culture between India and Sweden. In Sweden, most people got their internet access during the end of the 1990s when many families bought their first home computer with subsidies from the government. Since then, laptops, smartphones and tablets have entered the market. In India, I’m convinced that most people will be able to access internet via mobile phones first, which makes the new development even more interesting. I think in this field, the media industry in Sweden has much to learn from our colleagues in India.
How do the new digital media models square up with journalistic values/ethics?
This is one of the alarming aspects of digitisation wherein I’m convinced that there is an urgent need for international collaboration. There are several ethical challenges where we can see trolling and internet bullying affecting the way journalists work. I think that it is extremely vital to emphasise gender issues faced online and the fact that so many women in India and Sweden are harassed on the internet is something very worrying. I hope we can continue on working on the field of online harassment in order to create a better internet for everyone.
Anuradha Sengupta is a writer based in Mumbai.